The cost of a school board seat in Steamboat Springs is 10 times what it was just two years ago. That should not be a problem for future candidates–so long as they are union-backed.
Three months after reform-minded school board members and candidates across Colorado lost election bids or were recalled, campaign finance reports continue to show that their replacements were largely supported by teachers unions or union-friendly organizations—despite assertions the elections were grass-root efforts spurred by parent dissatisfaction.
Every Student Deserves Opportunity (ESDO) is the latest election player to report how it spent more than $185,000 on 2015 elections, which included the small town of Steamboat where election spending this year exceeded 2013 figures by 900 percent.
Although located in Thornton, the group concentrated its efforts on one candidate in Adams 12 Five Star School District, two candidates in Steamboat, one of the state’s smaller school districts, and several candidates in Aurora Public Schools.
ESDO, an independent expenditure committee, says in documents filed with the Colorado Secretary of State that its purpose is “to support candidates of any political party statewide who support sensible reform in Colorado Public Schools.”
However, a closer look at the expenditures shows the opposite. Complete Colorado first reported on ESDO in October after it launched a costly campaign against Adams 12 Five Star Schools board reform-incumbent Norm Jennings with three highly charged, full-color mailers claiming Jennings “suckered” the district, “railroaded” the district, and “took the district for a ride.”
Those expenditures included the services of Mad Dog Mail, a Florida campaign messaging firm. The firm’s website boasts that it only works with “strong, tough Democrats who fight against Republicans.”
Over the course of the campaign, ESDO spent more than $61,000 to unseat Jennings, a failed effort, but Jennings was one of the very few reform candidates who managed to retain his seat.
The group also spent roughly $77,000 on Aurora Public Schools candidates.
The most surprising investment was in Steamboat, a district of just over 2,500 students. ESDO spent $40,376 on mailings and other advertising support for Steamboat candidates Michelle Dover and Margaret Huron. That is compared to roughly $2,000 spent by Roger Good, a current reform member of the Steamboat Board of Education, in 2013, or the $2,400 combined between Brian Kelly and William Kennedy in 2009.
One expenditure for $14,950 was filed as supporting Dover and Huron and opposing Jennings, so it is unclear how much was appropriated to each cause in that expenditure.
Dover and Huron told Steamboat Today they were not aware of the group’s support, which included a full page ad in their hometown paper and multiple radio ads on their local radio station.
“I’ve never had any contact with the group — and I truthfully never heard the radio ad,” Huron told Steamboat reporter Teresa Ristow.
While that statement may be true on its face, that’s because Independent Expenditure Committees are prohibited under election laws from coordinating directly with candidates.
However, in Huron’s filings with the Secretary of State, total contributions of $1,800 to her from the Public Education Committee, which is a small donor committee belonging to the Colorado Education Association (CEA) are noted as being for photography. Another $1,800 was given by the same group to Dover with the same filing designation.
The color flyers sent out by ESDO were portrait photos of the two women together.
This is not the first time Dover and Huron have been accused of coordinating directly with the teachers union. Complete Colorado reported in October the two women’s initial filings of $1,750 each was originally reported as donated by CEA President Kerrie Dallman. Both women amended their filings within two minutes of each other the day after they were due to say the money came from the Public Education Committee instead.
CEA is the Colorado state affiliate of the National Education Association. More than 99 percent of ESDO’s contributions came from the Aurora Education Association ($34,000), The Colorado Fund for Children and Public Education—another product of the CEA—($131,762) and the District Twelve Educators Association ($25,000).